By Michael Shields
When God begn to create this reality there was first only immense formlessness and darkness. And a Ruakh Elohim [Divine Spirit, Energy, Vitality, Breath, Life Force, and Soul] hovered above the dark, formless, chaotic waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
In Judaism, the term "Ruakh" means spirit or energy. It motivates us to attend our house of worship (synagogue) to celebrate the holidays as we are instructed and to take action to protect other Jews, Jewish communities and the State of Israel.
However, this Ruakh, energy, is often stimulated more by adversity than by sanctity. Our religious world is too often given form and meaning by combating anti-semitism or the rising number of unaffiliated and alienated Jews and their families that have walked away from the faith, finding it unable to provide meaning for them in their lives. The Sabbath (Shabbat) has become a chore or a burdensome obligation as opposed to a joyful expression of community and a profound search for holiness.
This Ruakh must include a rededication to the study of the Bible within its Ancient Near Eastern contextual setting, but more importantly, the study of the interpretation of the Bible and the later works of Jewish (and other) theologians, philosophers and scholars. As human beings created in the image of God, we can unleash a positive Divine energy (Ruakh Elohim) that is buried within. We can bring our innate ‘Godliness’ to bear on our scriptural tradition that is inherently non-literal and thus open to interpretation and reinterpretation, and ripe with metaphor.
And the Divine called to Abram: Journey forth, from the known to the unknown. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will increase your name, and you shall be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
One of my teachers once said: “I believe the language of my soul is Judaism and that I live my best life through that language.” I would argue that discovering our Divine Ruakh is about coming together with other individuals who speak the same spiritual language. From those relationships, a sacred community (kehillah kedoshah) is built.
Rabbi Michael Shields leads the Jewish congregation at Temple Kol Tikvah in Davidson.